He Still Gives This Gift

In His great mercy and kindness, God led us to a church where we have been welcomed warmly and where Emily’s educational needs have been met for school.  I marvel at how God works, and often in the 11th hour!

In the physical body, long term stress can cause something called Adrenal Fatigue.   A human body, long over-taxed, simply can’t keep up with the demands  placed on it. The same, I believe, is true spiritually. You can grow ill from the demands of circumstances that dismay, disillusion, and exhaust–circumstances that never seem to end in a good outcome.

Thankfully, the Great Physician is aware of this. In His time and way, He ministers to his ill sheep. I have personally experienced this, and I want to point those who are hurting to the goodness of the LORD.

When you have been ill a long time, eating food of any kind can be a difficult thing. Doctors will have you start with the mildest and easiest of foods until you can build up your strength for more.

When spiritually ill and suffering, the same thing happens. In recent years, the heavy books that are on my shelf, the deeper devotionals, the books on theology and such went untouched. I developed almost an aversion to them, like a physically unwell person would look at a plate of steak and vegetables. This is not a time to bash yourself for your lack of spirituality or appetite for these things. Realize you have been under tremendous strain that has real consequences. Then, have faith in the One who can restore you to health.

Physically, as recovery begins, a slight appetite emerges.  Strength slowly returns. Simple food is once again attractive. The same is true in our spiritual lives.

The good news is that spiritually, as with our human bodies, the basics are still essential building blocks. We need them. God uses them to rebuild and strengthen us.

Our daughter Emily is the blessed recipient of much good basic doctrinal teaching. Sunday school at our church is not a Chuck E. Cheese-style, high octane, fun for the kiddies experience.  It ‘s purpose is to inculcate sound Scriptural knowledge. The stories from the Bible are fascinating and ever new. Each one instructs us of basic truths about God and His attributes, and also His enduring love for us.

I was moved to tears this last week as the Sunday School at our church began anew for the school year.  I picked up the paper that Emily brought home that  summed up the lesson they had been taught. She talked about the story of Solomon’s wisdom in the case of the two mothers arguing over the surviving baby,  a story that showcases the amazing wisdom of King Solomon.

The paper she brought home was so rich in teaching, I wanted to share some of the pages with you. I was making coffee this morning, and the thought hit me again forcefully. Solomon asked for wisdom and received it. God is STILL granting wisdom. His Word that doesn’t change promises that He will if we ask. (See the book of James, Chapter 1 vs. 5, Proverbs 1:6, Col. 2:3)

Whatever your perplexity or concern, we are told very clearly—If ANYONE lacks wisdom, let them ask of God, who gives to all without reproach. What a marvelous thing that is! We can have wisdom and make wise choices, because God has promised his children that gift.

I praise and thank the LORD for this truth and for His wisdom which stands in stark relief against the foolishness and despair of our times. I also praise and thank God for His provision for our needs spiritually and educationally. What a joyful thing to realize He cares for the sheep of His flock.

P.S. As a bonus, this week Emily’s school has, as hymn of the week, Take My Life and Let it Be, by Frances Ridley Havergal. Emily’s middle name, Frances, is in honor of that long ago hymn writer and poet who gave us so many hymns and devotional writings! She plans on telling the teacher this little  fact  today!  You can read about the hymn and its author here. 

 

 

Just Walk Away

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  ~ Jeremiah 2:31

Just walk away
Just say goodbye
Don’t turn around now you may see me cry
I mustn’t fall apart
Or show my broken heart…

~ Just Walk Away, Celine Dion

Sheep – Christians – are being scattered everywhere in our times. It doesn’t matter the stripe or label of church calling itself by the name “Christian.”  The steps and front walk of many of these places are covered with the invisible footprints  and tears of those departing, never to come back.

It doesn’t matter whether the “pastor” or “shepherd” of the flock wears cargo shorts and a Sponge Bob t-shirt or elaborate vestments with gold thread. The effect is the same. It doesn’t matter whether the musicians perform rap, funk and groove, Getty songs or  sacred works by Bach and Palestrina.  Too many are heading for the exits.

The sheep are being scattered any number of ways. Whether it’s  a superfluity of gaggatory self-help sermons (what is the point?), political rants of one kind or another, blatant apostasy, legalism of one brand or another, pride-filled intellectualism or doctrinal strip-tease (Hey, get a load of this, baby, look how much of so and so I can quote from memory!), or, underlying all of the above, a total absence of Christian love and concern. In any event,  the sheep are getting scattered to the four winds.

No church could possibly be perfect. That would end the moment we walk in. But, I suppose it isn’t too much to ask that people actually care about one another, not too unreasonable to think that a stranger in the midst should be embraced rather than shunned for any meaningful interaction. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone staunch the bleeding on a fellow sheep when it’s been made apparent. Normally, shepherds would be concerned at the sight of an injury, or at least would assign an assistant to cleanse the wound and patch it up. Normally.

The exodus.  Scattered, sad sheep headed down the drive without an earthly shepherd to visit a hospital bed, to stop by a home where there is clearly suffering or spiritual crisis. Traveling to a symposium or conference? Not a problem for these faux shepherds.  Traveling anywhere that asks for their vast knowledge?  Not too much. Traveling to a troubled household where there is pain? No. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve lived it.  Scatterers. They don’t care.

These days, the comfort comes to the scattered sheep where they can huddle together for warmth and encouragement The Scatterer Shepherds make themselves irrelevant. Needs get met in other ways.  They have to be. Broken sheep to broken sheep. That’s where most of it takes place.  Most Scatterers don’t even notice the departing. They are on to their next project. Doubling down in their spiritual malpractice–complacent, prideful and wicked, every one of them.

Woe is a strong word. In the original language, it was meant to be a curse. Woe to those who scatter the sheep of my flock, says the Lord. That’s how seriously God takes the scatterers.

This post is to remember the scattered sheep. The ones who once were hopeful that they had found a real shepherd, only to be disappointed. Again. The ones who limp away in the night, and nobody cares or even notices they are gone.

 At the end of the drive
Don’t look back.
There was nothing there to keep you,
No love to call you back.
Not a single person, not a single sad heart
will notice you are gone.
Don’t even bother to cry.
They are not worth a single tear.
Walk away. Just walk away.

When Churches “Gray Out”

Some people have an unusually sharp sense of when something in an atmosphere is wrong. I mean seriously wrong. I’m not talking about some psychic ability, I am talking about an emotional radar that picks up on currents and undercurrents more quickly than many others do. When I was a child, my mom used to say that there was no fooling me when it came to these things. It was an ability to sense things going on that were not immediately obvious to others.

Years later, I’ve done a lot of reading about Empaths, those with an emotional radar on high alert. Empaths tend to absorb the emotional atmosphere of a group of people, a place very quickly. It can be helpful in life, but it can also be exhausting when things are troubled.

There is much more to this personality type, but this is one aspect of it.  I think it applies also to sensitivity to the spiritual atmosphere in places, as well.  It’s called discernment.  I will give one example.  Thirty-odd years ago, as a teen, I was attending a church with my family. It was a small church that was a split of a split. The church was reportedly going through some turmoil, but it went over my head as far as what the problem was exactly.

I hated the place. I hated being there, and I couldn’t say why. One of the unhappy church people was in charge of “children’s church” that ran during service time for the kids. I was roped into playing the old upright piano for the handful of kids she was leading. Eager to please, I was shocked to see the music she set before me just as the singing was to begin. Not being a very solid sight reader, I stumbled and hit several wrong notes. I was unprepared for the music she was using and had not had a chance to practice.

The sour look on the leader’s sharp face pretty much let me know that I had been an epic disappointment. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I felt terrible. Lacking a great deal in confidence, I was apparently  a total failure as Children’s Church pianist.

I slunk off home that day, vowing to never ever again make such  a fool of myself and upset a church lady, especially that church lady who clearly disliked me. A few days later, one of my parents informed me that she had been most displeased with my performance and they had been informed that I was not needed in the future. My parents were disgusted with the church lady as well. I was relieved that my brief career as Children’s Church pianist was over.

Things worsened at the church, and every time I sat through the service, I had the uncanny sense that I had left a world of color.  This sounds strange, and it was strange. Over the years since then, I have called it “graying out.”  In these situations, it’s as though my eyes see things in gray and white, not in living color anymore.

I started resisting going, and various complaints kept me home altogether. My parents didn’t seem to mind. I developed a strange revulsion for the place. Then came word of something bizarre going on at the church. The pastor confided that strange things were occurring in the building. The piano in the sanctuary late one night began to play by itself., he said. In the dark. He believed it was some occult phenomenon due to the ugliness going on among the handful of church people, one of which was an angry pianist.  He claimed that strange chanting had been heard under his office windows. The pastor had been a missionary in South America prior to pastoring in the US. He was a devout Christian trying to hold the church together. He said things were dark spiritually at this church.  He resigned soon after, and he and and his family left the state. The church folded soon after that. Mercifully.

This “graying out” in the atmosphere I have experienced many times since.  I believe that God uses this sense as a warning about unhealthy places. It’s not something I disregard anymore.

As Christians, we are taught to believe the best in a situation, have patience, and to not hastily judge a person or circumstance. All of this is true, but when there is clearly the sense that something is wrong, it is worth stepping back and carefully evaluating a relationship or situation to decide what it is that we are sensing. The times I have ignored this have been serious mistakes.

When a room  or when a church “grays out” and the color and vibrancy is gone, something vital is missing. Life in the truest sense is being suppressed and repressed by something. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s un-forgiveness and grudge holding. maybe it’s a powerful spirit of control that robs the atmosphere of color and oxygen.  Where the Lord truly is, there is a spirit of liberty, not control. Where love is, pride can’t rule and reign. Where forgiveness is, there is vibrant life and every color imaginable. There’s joy. No “graying out.”

A lot of churches in America are “graying out.” The forms remain, but the God that is being claimed has long ago left the premises. Those exceptional churches where humility and Christ-likeness reign are few and far between. Never take that for granted if you have one.  The love of Christ is life-giving. People grow in healthy ways. There is a freedom and respect for boundaries, and an atmosphere of hope. What a difference the Lord’s presence makes. All gray is gone, and the spirit of heaviness disappears like dew in the morning sun.

Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.


Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.


Listen for the Hiss

In Genesis the story of Satan’s lies to the first humans is laid out. I have no doubt that the lies were not hissed by the serpent. The voice was probably lovely, beautiful and musical, shimmering with promise and glory.

But beneath that voice was the hiss of the serpent – the fallen angel –  who hated God and who was bound and determined to take down God’s highest creation, humankind.

The same lies that were there in the Garden of Eden are still around today.  (Genesis 3:5) Satan has no new material. It is simply repackaged for each generation by false teachers, the ones warned about in Holy Scripture. (See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:4-5 for just one example.) This is where every distortion and denial of the Gospel comes from in each generation of supposedly Christian churches.  Man is always exalted and lifted up as God, and God is diminished and denied. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant.

This article here by Chad Bird  is an excellent repudiation of this teaching of man’s greatness that can be heard everywhere today, including in many supposedly Christian churches.  The state of our broken planet is not the result of our great fear of embracing our fantastic, all-powerful selves. The state of this shattered planet is the result of spiritual rebellion against God. Sin. And that’s why we needed Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on Calvary.

Any so-called teacher, celebrity or otherwise, who is spreading the glories of man as savior, is at war with the heart of the Gospel message.  They are at war with God himself.  Their Gospel is not “watered down.” It is the anti-Gospel.  Listen for the hiss underneath the smooth talk. And then, as Chad Bird says so well, look to God instead.

 

 

 

 

Treasure Box at My Door

I am perpetually amazed at the way God works. The last two posts on this blog addressed just one problem of many in today’s churches.  Yes, the tone was negative and comments underscored the grief experienced by many where the lack of love in Christian churches, often starting at the pastoral level,  has had a tragic effect.

I found a large box on my porch the other morning. It was heavy.  Seeing it was sent to me, and not expecting any deliveries, I was curious.  Well, friends, it was a box of treasures—treasures so rich that I am still taking out the gems and admiring their facets.

It was a box of books, just the latest of many sent to me over the years from a long time friend who has an eye for literary riches of a spiritual nature. Occasionally, she sends them on to me. The books inside the box deserve a much longer post, because the story surrounding them is long. and each one is special. But because we had just been discussing pastors and churches here at the Hope Blog, and in a decidedly discouraging way,  one of the book treasures in that box is the topic here today.

I was at a church recently, the one I referenced in my first post on churches and looked down at the hymnal during the singing. The name underneath the hymn, the composer of the hymn tune, was William Henry Havergal. I smiled inwardly. His daughter Frances Ridley Havergal is the author of many familiar hymns still sung in hymn-using churches today. (Take My Life, and Let It Be, Like a River Glorious, and I Am Trusting Thee Lord Jesus are just three I will mention.) Her father was a great musician and also  wrote many hymn tunes familiar to hymn lovers.

William Havergal is the subject of one of the books in the box. I will write more on these new paperback books, freshly available, in a moment.

Here’s a little description of William Henry Havergal, an English pastor of the 19th Century.

William Henry Havergal (whose youngest child, Frances Ridley Havergal, is more known today) was a wonderfully gifted musician, both as a performer and as a composer, but he declined the offer of a music professorship at Oxford to enter pastoral ministry. Over nearly  five decades, his sermons, home visits, care of his flock, diligent ministry, was a “heart work,” bringing many to true faith in Christ and building up believers. His extant sermons (so few now remaining among the more than 2,500 briefly listed in his handwritten book, listing only the date, location, and Scripture text for the sermons he preached from 1816 to 1869) are gold, similar in valuable edification to Spurgeon, Ryle, Lloyd-Jones. The same as his written works, his life was a true example of the believer, and he could say like Paul, “be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ.” He so much loved his Saviour, and earnestly wanted and sought for others to know and love Him. He is summed up in the Latin phrase that he would write, “Laus Deo.” “Praise be to God.” The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land. This collection has the four volumes of his Sermons (all that have been found, leaving us wanting more), his sterling account of “A Wise and Holy Child,” nearly all of his extant hymns and poems, and a brief glimpse at his music compositions; at the end is his daughter’s biography Records of the Life of the Rev. William Henry Havergal, with also others’ statements and articles about him. His life and works can be described by these two comments that he said about his sermon (quoted in his daughter’s biography): “A lady calling, expressing her thanks to him for his sweet and comforting sermon, he meekly answered, ‘The Lord make it profitable, and then take all the praise.’ Another thanking him said it was a precious sermon. ‘Nothing in itself,’ he said, ‘all nothing; but the Lord can make it precious, and may He do so.’ ” (Taken from a longer portion on the back of the book, Works by William Henry Havergal.

Here are a couple other significant things said about this minister of the Gospel.

“He advised, he admonished, he sympathized; and, to the utmost of his means, he aided those who stood in need of aid.   An throughout his ministry he was eminently “faithful.”  HE did not hesitate, though he well knew the cost, to battle manfully with the vices and frivolities of the day. None could hearken to his conversation and think it possible to serve God and mammon.”

And this.

“…As genial as he was gentlemanly, refined in his tastes, high-souled, and gifted, his own immediate home circle, relatives and numerous friends, were all perfectly devoted to him; and no one could possibly approach him, even in a casual way, without feeling the radiation of Christian light and warmth from his heart and beaming face, for to the core he was a true man:  true to God, and true to his fellow men: ( from Biographical  Sketch of W.H.H. by Andrew James Symington)

Someone who commented on one of my earlier posts asked about what a true pastor  would look like in action. I think in these two brief descriptions of William Henry Havergal, you find the basics.   He had sympathy, a radiation of Christian light and warmth to all he met, a true man, true to God and true to his fellow men, he helped those in need to the full extent of his ability. In short, a pastor. A shepherd.

So I picked up this very large volume that contains the surviving sermons and other writings  of Rev. Havergal. This brings us to the other thing so frequently lamented today – the state of the pulpits—the sermons or lack thereof. Within seconds of picking up the book, I was plunged into a world of detailed, solid Bible teaching. The early messages in the book went straight to the Old Testament and emphasized the importance of Christians reading these books in depth, something frequently rejected today in favor of the New Testament alone. The first sermon I read was on the Ark of the Covenant. I won’t go any farther, except to say that the sermon contains rich, rich teaching, the like of which is  very rarely heard today in an American evangelical church.

You enter a different world with Old Path preachers when you read or hear their sermons.  They were serious men of God, with hearts of love for the listener, who spoke the truth, and did not hold back when they needed to say unpopular things. They always, always exalted Christ and preached the pure word of God to whose in their care.

My treasure box is filled with so much, I am still taking in what arrived at my door. It came at a time when I needed the encouragement. Isn’t that like the Lord? Elijah was in the cave and needed food, and it was brought to him by the ravens. This box came to me on the wings of the US Mail, sent by God’s own kindly hand through his loving servant, my friend.  How wonderful it is that  God still meets our needs before we even ask.

If you would like to know what was in my treasure box, go to Amazon.com and type in the search window the following words exactly. “Havergal Chalkley Paperback”. Every one of these books contains wonderful things.  The book I have referenced above about William Henry Havergal is here at this link. It is a large book. Some of the books in this collection of books are for children, written by Frances Havergal, some contain music from Frances and her father, some are devotionals. Click on each book listed on Amazon  for a description. On page 2 of the listings, you will find the Five Royal Books. These are the very first Havergal books I ever encountered years ago when we were in South Carolina. They are devotionals. If you start with those, you can’t go wrong.

William Havergal was a shepherd long ago.  Thanks to the work of those committed to seeing this project through, these sermons, and the beautiful writings of Frances Ridley Havergal, his daughter, have been brought to life again. They are here for a reason. Those needing spiritual food, comfort and a glimpse of real teaching need look no farther than these books.  God can send food with the “ravens” in these times of great spiritual poverty.  I know, because he sent a box of good spiritual food  straight to my door. And now I can share it with you.

(You can see my markers in the book in the box. I’m already using my post-it notes for page reference!)

Small Girl, Big Faith

fb_img_1485441432706Emily was not feeling well and was home from school last week. She wanted to watch kids’ shows on PBS, but I said, no, today was a books only day. She got propped up in bed and got her Bible story books, three different ones and spent the day, literally, immersed in them. About 11, she came into the family room where I was and had her face crumpled up with tears coming down. She held open the story of Jesus’ crucifixion with an illustration of Christ on the way to the cross. “This is so sad, Mom. They did this to Jesus.” She said several times, “It’s so sad…” We had a wonderful conversation about what it all meant. She also asked about the two criminals on the cross on each side of Jesus, how one believed and one did not, how Jesus triumphed over death by rising again, how He ascended into heaven and before He left, how He promised He was coming back. She came back several times with questions about Old and New Testament, and showed me the illustration of Jesus with the children, and then, she came back again with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, and again, showing the beautiful illustration of young Jesus at age 12, discussing the Law with the teachers in the Temple.

I have seen a great uptick of interest in our daughter about spiritual things lately. Her love for Jesus is real and it shines in her eyes when she talks about Him. It’s a very sobering responsibility to know that our children are watching and listening to us, and that we can either blunt that faith, destroy it, or nurture it, water it and help it to grow. Having this responsibility with Emily has been a great help to me spiritually. Why? Because the ugliness of this world, the harm done to us by the inexplicable evil we experience—especially from other professing Christians– can cause us to make shipwreck of our own faith. It’s in the simplicity and trust in a child’s eyes and praise that I find my way home again to the Lord many times, and I understand newly, nearly every day, why God places such value on the example of children in the area of faith. All our sophisticated thinking, intellectual pride and self-righteousness drop away when we look into the face of the Savior, like a child, and believe that his atoning wounds on Calvary covered our sin. Thanks be to God.

 

Treasures of Darkness

It’s 3am and blinding pain from one of my killer headaches wakes me from sleep. I stagger to the kitchen as quietly as possible and pour water into the Keurig to make a quick 20 oz of coffee. The only thing that helps.

The house is silent. Tom and Emily are  deep in sleep. I sit with the coffee, trying not to burn myself on the hot liquid–medicine for me that I can’t get down fast enough. I rock back and forth, back and forth in my rocker,  waiting for the moment when my head will ease.

The worst of the pain lets up, and I can think again. My mind drifts to each of my children and where they are in their lives.  The relief from the pain is growing, and every time, it brings tears to my eyes that I am feeling better. It’s some kind of response to the dissipation of pain and it happens every time. I pray for answers and help in our lives for a few minutes. Then I feel the need for a human voice. I pick up my phone next to me on the lamp table and find Alexander Scourby’s reading of the Psalms. The beauty and authority of his reading of Scripture is always a great comfort. I put my head back on the chair and listen to him begin.

 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Somewhere in the Psalms that continue in Scourby’s lovely voice , I drift off to the familiar cadences of those beautiful, ancient words.  Relief, peace, the sense that God is near.

I recently saw a painting that depicted Jesus sitting on a bench with a young man. It was supposed to represent heaven, and the young man appeared to be asking questions. It made me wonder if we will be able to ask the Lord questions about this life and why things were the way they were. All the seemingly pointless suffering, meaningless pain and hurt.  Then it occurred to me that if we were going to remember the bad in this life, it wouldn’t be much of a heaven. Every tear, Scripture tells us, will be wiped away in that place where there is no need of the sun, because the light of the Lamb will be enough.  No more darkness. No more night.

I can’t pretend to understand what all our pain means in this life, only that in the darkness, in the night watches there are unexpected shafts of light, reminders of God, the God beloved of the Psalmist who played his harp beneath the starry skies on the hills, who wrote the words we still know today. Maybe in the bright light of day we are too quick to forget God, and it’s only when He allows us to awaken with pain that we are reminded of His presence. When we’re always strong, and able, and go from strength to strength in our own might, we tend to forget Him.  In our great need, we are driven to remember our frailty, that we are dust, and that all we have comes from our Creator’s kindly hand.

In the night watches of our lives, help us to find the treasures of darkness, Heavenly Father. Because they are there, waiting for us.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. ~ Isaiah 45:3

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When a Stronghold Falls

For the weapons of our warfare are not those of the world. Instead, they have the power of God to demolish fortresses.   ~ II Corinthians 10:4

Did you ever see a stronghold of the enemy fall? The enemy I refer to is the enemy of souls who the Scriptures describe as a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In our world broken by sin, there are certain situations long dominated by the enemy that are his territory, and it seems that nothing will ever take down those fortress walls.

It does not often happen in this world that these walls fall. Every one of us knows of families, areas in society, or people who are under the sway of evil, and even prayer, no amount of it, will change that. Even churches can be a stronghold of evil and those committed to praying against it will sometimes end up leaving when nothing changes. (Just a note to such places – when the prayer warriors leave, that is a major warning sign that judgement is at the door. When God removes those who are on their knees in intercession, your days of warning are over.)

Only very rarely are we blessed to see a stronghold fall. But if you ever have, you will never forget it. I once saw a powerful fortress fall. Here’s what it took. It took ONE key person who did the right thing. One person to move from a seemingly immovable position. I often think of situations like this as a log jam in a river – logs forced together in such a way that they simply do not move and become a dam. But all it can take is movement in just ONE key log, and the dam blocking the flow of the river breaks apart.

When strongholds fall, God’s blessing is immediately evident. The fall of those walls will cause a small earthquake felt by many —the thunder of God at work to restore and to heal.

The fastest way to build a stronghold of evil is to shut out God’s call to our consciences, to sit in pride, especially pride or cowardice and silently witness evil done to others. We forget to self-assess or weigh our role in perpetrating or supporting evil, even tacitly. Years go by, relationships are lost, families or churches are destroyed. The ruins left behind on ground sown with salt become a monument to the work of Apollyon – the Destroyer. A Satanic trophy.

But God. There is a photograph from many years ago on a bookcase in my home that marks the earthquake of joy that occurred with the falling of one such stronghold. There are no smoking ruins in that photograph. It is a triumph of love over alienation, of joy over grief and anger, and it is the working of the Author of all that is good and beautiful.

Whenever I grow discouraged at the many strongholds with walls intact, I look at that photo and think, this is what God can do. I saw it happen before my eyes. We all need to see this at least once in our lives, especially now, when things around us are often so dark.

May 2017 see the work of God in the pulling down of strongholds in our lives, and may territory be taken back to the glory of Jesus Christ. He is able to do far more than we ask or think.

I hope to write more on this subject in the coming months. This blog is now in its 10th year, and I pray that those who stumble across it leave with hope that comes from our heavenly Father. God is not dead nor does He sleep.

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